Tag Archives: living in the moment

of mice, death and neuroticism

what a nice surprise! two years ago i asked a question on louise m. brookes’ blog and today she replied. louise teaches bushcraft and wilderness survival, and blogs about building your own renewable energy systems, sustainable technology as well as personal development, fitness and health.

she had said

death makes all of our attempts at life utterly meaningless, laughable, ridiculous almost, yet we continue, most of us with our singularly particular neuroses.

and i commented

i’m curious why someone like you, who spends so much time in nature, would say that? isn’t death just part of the cycle?

here’s an excerpt of the reply

nature has a wonderful perspective on death, one that it is continually sharing all the time, it does not consider it either bad or good. death just is, death just happens …

any moment our life can be extinguished which renders all our ‘activity’ fairly redundant and apparently without import … i say apparently because we confer great meaning on our unknown spans of life … but we fail to attach great meaning to death … in many of our day to day lives it doesn’t bear thinking about and perhaps it should. the nature of nature is impermanence. it gives me great freedom to know that i can be plucked from my reality without a moment’s notice … death balances the gift of life, like the apex of a pendulum’s swing. when we fail to grant death its place in our day to day life, we fail to have truth …

when we deny death and avoid it and live with our eyes shut we are automatically neurotic. which was why i pointed it out in this manner as rendering ‘our attempts at life as meaningless, laughable and ridiculous’, like our discussing of the price of peas when someone is pointing a weapon at us.

we have just been adopted by a cat. every day she brings us various bits of mice and birds and leaves them on our doorsteps as offerings. mice who up until their early demise in the jaws of a cat were busy fetching food and building nests for their young – the difference between mice and men is that the mice are much more aware of the cat in any given moment than we are of death.

had we all known perhaps we would make different choices about what is important and what isn’t… would i stand there still and wonder for as long about which make up looks best? would i spend more time with my loved ones, would i help more folk that crossed my path?

this, of course, reminds me of the buddhist (and also hindu) practice of mindfully and intentionally engaging with death. as v.g. gunaratna says

it is not for nothing that the buddha has, in the very highest terms, commended to his disciples the practice of mindfulness regarding death. this is known as “marananussati bhavana”. one who wants to practice it must at stated times, and also every now and then, revert to the thought maranam bhavissati — “death will take place.” this contemplation of death is one of the classical meditation-subjects treated in the visuddhi magga which states that in order to obtain the fullest results, one should practice this meditation in the correct way, that is, with mindfulness (sati), with a sense of urgency (samvega) and with understanding (ñana).

for some reason – perhaps because of my father`s interest in buddhism – the idea that death is always near has been given to me when i was quite young, when i was about 14. i still remember it clearly. i was strolling on the sidewalk, almost home, when i realized that in the apartment building next to me, they were fixing the roof.

in germany, most roofs are made with heavy roof tiles. with a flash, it occurred to me that right here, right now, one of those tiles could fall down, hit me in the head, and kill me. i also felt in my bones a fundamental existential principle: “ìf not now, when?”

this second of realization was one of the most significant moments in my life. why i reacted to this experience with gratitude and an almost excited astonishment instead of fear, i’ll never know. it was a gift, just like having louise’s blog post land in my lap was.

may we be continuously aware of the freshness of each moment.

mice play, cats eat, i
work in the garden, sow, plant.
—  now? later?:  i die.

a buddhist carnival on father’s day

laughing, imperfect buddhahello friends, and thanks for visiting this month’s buddhist carnival!

before we start, i want to say:

happy father’s day!

and i want to tell you a bit about my father, who passed away 12 years ago. it was my father who awakened my interest in buddhism. buddhism was a philosophy that suited my father well. when i think of him, the first emotional images that arise are of a calm but passionate man, who was intimately aware of the nature of illusion, and who was infinitely compassionate yet unentangled with other people’s suffering. he also had an all-encompassing sense of humour that often seemed to hold the whole world’s vast absurdity in his loving, warm hands. yes, he talked about buddhism here and there, but more than that, he was an example of it. i don’t think i ever heard him use a phrase like “living in the moment” but even in his darkest days (and there were many!) there was always a sense of presence about him; perhaps he often did not live in the moment but he was frequently aware of it, and it showed.

it is interesting that this immediate recall i have of him is always much louder and more intense than the other stuff: like many “gurus” (a very charismatic man, he was a strong influence on those around him, most of them fellow artists), he was fallible in countless ways. he was manipulative and had that impossible sense of entitlement so typical of the european aristocracy that had survived the upheavals of history anything but intact. this man was also addicted to just about anything that caught his fancy, and struggling, for his life many times, with bipolar disorder.

and yet, as i paint this all-round picture, these all-too-apparent shortcomings serve nothing but to enrich the image of my father that i carry in my heart.

i am deeply grateful that i can say “yes” to all that my father was. that, too, comes from him: this fierce doctrine of inclusion and acceptance.

thank you, father. or let me talk to him directly, in german:

pappi, danke fuer all die geschenke, mit denen du mich ueberhaeuft hast. danke, dass du mir den buddha geschenkt has.

and now: let’s move on to the carnival:

the essence of the sutra is a poem
i really like opening this carnival with a poem. in this post, the sutra on knowing the better way to live alone – thich nhat hanh we hear

the essence of the sutra is a poem. the buddha wrote poems, but the poems of the buddha were more designed to show us how to practice. the gatha which talks about the art of living alone is called the bhaddekaratta gatha, bhaddekaratta means “the best way to live alone.” many people have mistranslated this title: one master translated it as “practicing for one night.” there’s also another master who translated this title as “being present.” the correct translation is to say “the better way to practice living alone.” this poem says:

do not pursue the past.
do not lose yourself in the future.
the past no longer is.
the future has not yet come.
looking deeply at life as it is
in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells
in stability and freedom.

all of the essence of the buddha’s teachings lies in these words.

next, a post on loss by our friend chris, the martial artist, who has been a welcome guest here on this carnival quite a few times already. he talks about a topic that i have been thinking about lately, so i was happy to hear more about it. it is called investing in loss, investing in ego

the hero’s journey starts with self-reinforcement, passes through acceptance and internal quietude, to arrive at listening, learning and perhaps, ultimately, transcendence. this is the common path of spirituality and martial arts. to win, one must first be sincerely willing to lose more than just their footing.

as often, i am presenting this carnival in two parts. i find it contradictory to praise the simplicity of buddhism and then at the same time flood you with even more words than i usually do.

the second part will come out in the next few days, some time before june 20.

in the meantime, if you have an article about buddhism you would like to see featured here, please use this submission form.

and don’t forget

do not pursue the past.
do not lose yourself in the future.

in gassho,


(image by T a k